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The Defence Chief of Staff presides over the ceremony of the change of command at the Torrejón Combined Air Operations Centre.

Torrejon Air Base, Madrid
March 29, 2023
  • The outgoing Commander, Lieutenant General Fernando De la Cruz, has encouraged the staff of the Combined Air Operations Centre to keep working with the incoming Commander, Lieutenant General Sanchez de Lara, with the same enthusiasm and professionalism demonstrated during his tenure.

The handover ceremony took place this morning  at the Combined Air Operations Center Torrejón (CAOCT).

The ceremony was presided over by Admiral General Teodoro Lopez Calderon, Chief of Defence Staff (JEMAD), who was accompanied at all times by General James B. Hecker,Commander of the NATO Allied Air Command Europe, General Fernando De la Cruz handed over the command to Lieutenant General Juan Pablo Sanchez de Lara in a simple military ceremony.

The ceremony was attended, among other authorities, by Chiefs of Staff of allied countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, etc.), heads of NATO Command Structure Centres (HQ AIRCOM, CAOC Uedem), representatives of the Spanish Air Force and Space Aeronautical Council, ambassadors, advisors and military attachés of NATO countries represented in the CAOCT (Germany, France, Croatia, Hungary, etc.).

In his speech, the JEMAD highlighted the achievements of the CAOCT during General De la Cruz's term of office, emphasising the challenges of a time conditioned especially by the COVID 19 pandemic, but also affected by other disturbances, such as the storm Filomena that affected southern Europe in January 2021. The Admiral General remarked that none of these conditions prevented the CAOCT from fulfilling its mission of monitoring the European sky on the southern flank 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On his turn, General De la Cruz expressed his recognition for the loyalty and good performance demonstrated by all the personnel under his command in the CAOCT over the past three years. The General elaborated on that performance when he referred to the illegal invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and the response provided by the CAOCT personnel, who also kept their primary mission.

The incoming Commander in his turn stated that "as the new CAOCT Commander, my availability and commitment is and will always be permanent to my commanders, peers and subordinates". He also emphasised that "my availability and that of the team of which I am now a part will contribute to reinforce the trust placed in us, ensuring the peace, security and safety of the Allied airspace 24/7".”.

General Sanchez de Lara has completed more than 3,500 hours of flight time in fighter aircraft, a large part of them as an instructor and test pilot. Other important posts in his military career include Director of the General Air Academy, head of the Air Staff's Plans Division and head of the Canary Islands Air Command. He has been awarded international military decorations such as the NATO Medal, the European Medal, the Security and Defence Medal and the French National Defence Gold Medal. He has also been awarded civilian decorations, including the Grand Cross of the Royal Military Order of San Hermenegildo, the Grand Cross of Aeronautical Merit, four Crosses of Aeronautical Merit and a Cross of Naval Merit, among other national decorations.

Combined Air Operations Centre Torrejon (NATO)

Under the organic command of Allied Air Command within the NATO command structure, CAOCs are responsible for planning, tasking, directing, coordinating and supervising the air operations of aircraft assigned by member nations in their area of responsibility. The CAOC Uedem oversees the areas of Iceland and the Baltic Sea, and the CAOC in Torrejon is responsible for the Black Sea region; both CAOCs work with the corresponding national warning and control centres to fulfil the mission of safeguarding NATO airspace throughout Europe.

The main purposes of CAOCTJ, under the direct command of a Spanish Lieutenant General of the Air and Space Army, is to plan, direct, coordinate, supervise, analyse and report on air defence operations in southern Europe. It follows the directives of NATO's Air Component Command on which it depends and carries them out with the resources allocated by nations to NATO during peacetime.

The Spanish Armed Forces make an important contribution to the mission carried out by this centre. Around 120 Spanish military personnel serve in the CAOCT itself as well as in the National Support Element (NSE) and the NATO Communications and Information Agency Unit (NCIA).